If I ever got transported into a swords-and-horses fantasy novel, I’d be in big trouble. I fence like a hopping rabbit and mostly fall off horses. I regard horses kind of like Sherlock Holmes did: as dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle. Probably my best survival strategy in that fantasy world would be to locate the nearest fort with princesses and become indispensable through my keen embroidery skills and ability to read and write.
My kids aren’t me, in case you were wondering.
I have a daughter who does like horses, and another daughter who likes whatever her big sister likes. They manage not to fall off them, either. I also have a best friend who likes horses and wants to teach my girls to ride. So every week, I am very brave and don’t hyperventilate as first one daughter, then the other, climbs on top of these alarming creatures as though to the manor born.
I can break down my life and teaching choices by the level of bravery required:
Wearing nerdy t-shirts in public = easy
Scrounging/inventing our girls’ curriculum = a little brave
Continuing homeschooling again tomorrow = brave
Riding lessons for the girls = very brave
I’m not talking about a reasonable prudent concern, such as “That horse is wild” or “They aren’t ready yet.” It’s more of a free-floating alarm. I guess it’s a reasonable question why we’re even doing this, since I’m a) not able to help teach and b) find it terrifying. Maybe we should do something less stressful—like competitive ice dancing or world travel. (Ha.)
To put it in C. S. Lewis terms, my head thinks riding is probably a good thing and my stomach goes, “AHHH! A BIG HORSE!” So what do I do? Lewis says “The head rules the belly through the chest – the seat…of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments.” In this case, I find in myself a whole stable of sentiments I learned from books—and the occasional relative who had a barn—but especially books.
To start with: Lord Peter Wimsey, by Dorothy Sayers. You should always start with Lord Peter. He was a man who could ride a horse and subdue himself to his own ends. If he decided to do a thing, he had the self-discipline to do it. I admire that.
Then there’s Ramses Emerson, from Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia books. Ramses was homeschooled by his archaeologist parents. In Seeing a Large Cat, their family friend the sheik offered to take Ramses for a summer and teach him “to ride and shoot and become a leader of men,” which is an epic curriculum if ever I heard one. It totally worked, in case you were wondering.
In The Magician’s Nephew, most of the characters can ride, and Lewis uses it to tell us things about them. Jadis is an impressive horsewoman, and Digory notices it, but she rides Strawberry cruelly and maddens him to get the kind of mayhem she wants. Digory deals with Strawberry at first as a danger to be handled and later as a friend, which is appropriate for a boy protagonist. But when the Cabby interacts with Strawberry, his first concern is for Strawberry’s welfare.
I’ve learned (my emotions have been persuaded) that there’s a connection between being able to control a horse and being able to control oneself, and between a person’s humane treatment of the horse and their actions in other areas. A man who mistreats his horse – well, the humans around him had better look out, too. I think Sherlock’s dislike of horses underlines what an unbalanced human being he is. He’s a brilliant but narrow character. Look at Gimli, who was forever getting dragged onto saddles behind people. A protagonist who can’t ride is pretty pitiful.
I think the books are right, more right than I am. This is why horse riding therapy is a thing, because how you handle a horse does affect and reflect who you are in the rest of your life. That’s something worth doing.
So I can act out of that emotional confidence and not from visceral fear. I am choosing what kind of person I am, as well as what kind of people the girls may grow into. They do want to ride, and we do have a teacher for them. I will not, I will not, deny them this wide open opportunity because I am afraid, because that’s a terrible reason.
Climb on up, ladies. Off you go.
Photo Credit: All images by Carolyn Bales.
 That simile is courtesy of the president of our college fencing club. He was right. I would fight very bravely and die very quickly. That is why I should practice archery.
 The Abolition of Man, “Men Without Chests.”